By Emile Creel
After 24 years in the office, Jo Ann Watts has worked with almost every career and technical education (CTE) pathway, and she wouldn’t have it another way.
“It’s all new with development of curriculum. It’s an adventure, a good adventure to build that,” said Watts, a project manager in the curriculum department at the Research and Curriculum Unit (RCU).
Originally hired to work with the integration of CTE and academic courses, Watts now oversees the curriculum for construction, manufacturing, digital media technology, information technology, and family and consumer science courses. In this role, gathers research on trends and industry expectations, works with teachers during curriculum revision cycles, and assists teachers in these pathways with programmatic needs. She holds a wealth of knowledge from her years at the RCU and uses it to guide teachers and districts with questions about course requirements, industry and professional connections, assessment needs, student organizations, and much more.
“I’ve met so many interesting people and gotten to have an impact on the state—that’s what I’ve enjoyed in this position at the RCU,” Watts said.
Watts has coordinated curriculum for a variety of courses and subject areas. The pathways she has worked with may have changed throughout the years, but she said the RCU’s goals and vision have not. From her point of view, the work has only evolved and advanced, and the organization continues to produce the best end-product for Mississippi’s schools and the Mississippi Department of Education.
Watts began her career in Louisiana, where she taught middle school as well as at a career and technical center. She also is certified to teach both science and social studies.
Working in education was a natural choice because she had a grandmother and other family members who taught for years. That influence led her on a pathway into the classroom and eventually to curriculum development.
“It’s in my family. I never envisioned doing anything else,” Watts said.
Another family tie-in connects her to a pastime she enjoys outside of work: gardening. Rotating vegetables, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, or annual flowering plants, Watts uses skills she learned from her father, who worked as a nurseryman.
“It’s relaxing to dig in the dirt. I try different things, like growing cucumbers in hanging baskets, but I always have fresh herbs because they’re good for cooking,” said Watts.
Those herbs make their way into many of Watts’ dishes, and she frequently tries out new recipes and foods.
“I don’t really have a favorite dish to cook. I’ll try anything once, even if I don’t want it again,” said Watts. “I once tried escargot. It’s not something I’d order again, but I’m glad I’ve tried it.”
Watts’ open approach and willingness to attempt anything have aided her through her time at the RCU, as she’s moved from one pathway to another and through numerous software and technology changes. Watts is never afraid to tackle the next project and learn all she can from the people and research in the field.
“I’ve enjoyed working with all the pathways. I don’t have a favorite. I’ve learned so much from each of them,” she said.